Commentary: Why Mary Taylor Is Sprinting Away From Gov. Kasich

Jan 29, 2018

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor – who wants to be the next governor of Ohio – is running away from Gov. John Kasich at the speed of light.

And the apparent front-runner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, hasn't gone out of his way to court the support of the present governor.

Kasich, for his part, responds to all of this with his usual reaction to such things: He shrugs his shoulders, moves on, and books another trip to New Hampshire for April, making it abundantly clear that, one way or another, he plans on running for president again in 2020.

At an Ohio Statehouse event last week, Kasich told reporters that Taylor – who has been his running mate in the last two gubernatorial elections – has "been a great teammate, a great, loyal partner" and that Taylor "has a right to be independent."

But Kasich also points out that maybe he is not the political poison that Taylor and others in the Ohio GOP think he is. He still has a high approval rating and he pointed out that he did win 86 of 88 counties in his 2014 re-election bid.

What he didn't mention was that his 2014 re-election was against one of the weakest Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the state’s history, Ed FitzGerald of Cleveland.

Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University, does think it is remarkable that someone like Taylor, who has been part of the Kasich administration for nearly two terms now, is running so hard to get away from him.

"It's amazing when you think about the massive victory Kasich had in 2014, even though it was against a weak opponent,'' Mariani said. "And Kasich has fundraising lists that could be a big help to Taylor, running as the underdog."

But he understands it, and it all boils down to one thing: Donald Trump.

Trump has the loyalty of a substantial block of GOP voters – Ohioans who helped Trump win the Buckeye State in the 2016 presidential election.

Taylor and her running mate, Cincinnati businessman Nathan Estruth, want to win them over. So, too, do DeWine and his running mate, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

There are a lot of conservative Republicans and Trump supporters who are upset with Kasich over his continuing criticism of Trump and his administration, and still hold a grudge because Kasich did an end-run around the Republican-controlled legislature and expanded Medicaid coverage, mainly for the working poor, under Obamacare.

So Taylor’s position makes sense.

"She  is looking at the numbers, and what she is probably seeing is that there are a whole lot of Republican primary voters out there who aren't real happy with Kasich,'' Mariani said.

And many of them – those who support Trump – resent the fact that Kasich continues to hound Trump and is clearly preparing for another run for the White House in 2020, Mariani said.

Kasich, Mariani said, "is term-limited and that frees him to be John Kasich. He's clearly interested in running for president. And he's angled himself as a centrist Trump critic."

Trump loyalists have been in charge of the Ohio Republican Party machinery for a year now, having ousted Kasich's people from the party leadership. Whether or not the present party leadership represents the mainstream of GOP primary voters remains to be seen.

But Mary Taylor, an underdog candidate for governor, clearly wants those Trump voters and doesn't believe being associated too closely with Kasich will help that cause.

Kyle Kondik, an Ohioan who is a political analyst for the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said there are "scattered signs" that Kasich is weak among Ohio Republican voters.

He pointed to a 2016 exit poll that showed Hillary Clinton doing better with people who liked Kasich than those who didn't, "indicating his crossover appeal, but also his weakness with Republicans."

"The behavior by Taylor indicates she thinks Kasich's support is a liability as opposed to an asset,'' Kondik said.

Little wonder, then, that she is pretending that Kasich has not said that he endorses her candidacy.

So she runs away from Kasich and runs toward Trump. The problem with that is that if she can find a way to win the primary, she might have to change directions and put some distance between herself and Trump for the general election.

Then again, maybe Kasich was right in what he said last week at the Statehouse: "I don't think endorsements really matter anyway."

“Politically Speaking” is WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson’s weekly column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us. Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974.